Pakistan's tweeters take on the state

"Just spoke with ████ from the ISI. He tells me that ███&#

Pakistan has 1.9 million twitter users and since the start of the year it has become a major channel for dissent, comment and dark humour against the grinding ISI state.

For those picking their way through the complexities of good guys and bad guys in an opaque country, it has also become a way to support and pay tribute to the Pakistanis who risk their lives to defend the ordinary citizens. It is a way to circulate articles including this in the New York Times by the Martha Gelhorn award-winning editor Umar Cheema, who was picked up and tortured by the ISI, and to swap high-spirited news and gossip.

Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch , Pakistan, on the unsung security forces who take the brunt of extremist action: "True Heroes -- security guards, police, soldiers at the frontline -- & their families who endure such suffering. Pity about those who command them." Omar Waraich continues: "I've lost count of how many heroic Pakistani security guards have given their lives stopping terrorists killing more people".

The daily repression, torture and murder of Baloch nationalists, unknown in the west, is constantly and pithily documented. Mohammed Hanif, author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes, put out the murder of a distinguished intellectual and academic "Brilliant Balochi scholar, a very popular teacher at Balochistan University , built a library wth his own money. Prof Saba Dashteyari killed" and days later: "Slain Dr. Saba Dashtiari's room sealed, writings taken, flowers removed". Abbas Nasir, former editor of Dawn: "Abrar Hussain killed in Quetta today represented Pakistan in Olympics boxing. Stop killing Baloch nationalists and deal with these murderers". A Balochi tweets: "Pakistanis u'll never knw what Prof Dashtayari meant. 4 u its another man killed-for us an institution has closed its doors".

It's also become a medium in which high profile tweeters can see off the ISI in a way precluded by regular print, online and broadcasting, some areas of which are infiltrated by the agency itself. On the way to be interviewed on Dunya tv in Islamabad after a long run-off with the ISI, Syed Saleem Shahzad was picked up and killed. A Pakistani tweeted: "Dunya TV has very 'rogue' elements within it too, btw. I will not be surprized if SSS's assassins were tipped off abt the show".

Not best known for its brainpower, the ISI struggled to master the tweet but now apparently has a bevy of guys and gals bothering the media in return, even if it is still not quite bright enough to understand that dubious tweets are flushed back out into the public domain. One riled a well-known and outspoken young liberal broadcaster who replied: "No, you pathetic cretin, I do not hate Pakistan . I love the country and it's people. Hate the ISI for it's dangerous duplicity!" Sideways to a friend: "What's intersting about X is have you seen his posts and blog he's clearly not an ordinary person if you get my drift. Hmm."

Best of all is the terse satire the medium has spawned:

"Whoa!! ISI warns journalists to not defame Pakistan 's "Sensitive agencies"!! I have medical qweshun: Can dicks...".

"Just spoke with ████ from the ISI. He tells me that █████ is in Quetta . █████ in Karachi . And Elvis is in █████ "

Pakistan's best tweeters:

Ali Dayan Hasan, Human Rights Watch: @AliDayan

Abbas Nasir, former editor of Dawn: @abbasnasir59

Shehrbano Taseer, humanitarian campaigner: @shehrbanotaseer

Omar Waraich, journalist: @OmarWaraich

Raza Rumi, journalist: @Razarumi

Majorly Profound, satirist: @majorlyprofound

Mohammed Hanif, award winning novelist: @mohammedhanif

George Fulton, television producer: @GeorgeFulton1

Nadeem Paracha, columnist and satirist: @NadeemfParacha

Catriona Luke is a freelance writer and editor.

 

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.